Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Five questions to tackle client resistance

We all encounter resistance with clients, but I am not sure we necessarily stop to reflect on why that resistance has arisen. Reflection gives us the opportunity to deliberately improve our own practice.

We need to be aware of ourselves, and aware of what kind of self-regulatory issues we are likely to encounter (Gollwitzer & Brandstatter, 1997). Sometimes our clients are not that self-aware, which is a major barrier. Success in goal achievement requires us to "ward[] off distractions", "flexibly step[] up efforts in the face of difficulties"; "compensat[e] for failures and shortcomings"; and negotiat[e] conflicts between goals (Gollwitzer & Brandstatter, 1997, p. 186). Often goal contradiction (Gollwitzer & Brandstatter, 1997; Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2006) or goal tension (Cianci et al., 2010) will create resistance: the 'too much to do' workload. Sometimes imposter syndrome (Clance & Imes, 1978) will create resistance: in that we do not believe we can be successful.

Some questions to reflect on, to help us to formulate strategies for when we find our clients are resistant, might be: 

  1. What can we do when our client avoids the conversation, or avoids the topic? 
  2. How do we move from problem-focused goals to decision-making goals? 
  3. If scaling and reframing are useful tools to work with resistance, what are others? 
  4. What happens when we disagree with client goals? Our own prejudices and values emerge. Is this helpful? 
  5. How can we effectively challenge. What does that look like? Discuss clients who have been resistant. What does that resistance look like?

Once we have thought through the potential barriers, we can provide clients with strategies to better assist them.

The topic of another post!



  • Cianci, A. M., Klein, H. J., & Seijts, G. H. (2010). The effect of negative feedback on tension and subsequent performance: The main and interactive effects of goal content and conscientiousness. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(4), 618-630.
  • Clance, P. R. & Imes, S. (1978). The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention. Psychotherapy Theory, Research and Practice, 15(3), 241-249.
  • Gollwitzer, P. M., & Brandst├Ątter, V. (1997). Implementation intentions and effective goal pursuit. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(1), 186-199. 
  • Gollwitzer, P. M., & Sheeran, P. (2006). Chapter 2 Implementation intentions and goal achievement: A meta‐analysis of effects and processes. In Zanna, M. (Ed) Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (Vol 38, pp. 69-119). Academic Press.

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